Concord, North Carolina (August 27, 2018) – Over the weekend the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards returned to Western Michigan’s Berlin Raceway for the running of the Primera Plastics 200. The race originally scheduled in July was postponed at the time due to rain and run on Saturday night delivering excitement and controversy under the lights in front of a near capacity crowd.
Returning with a three car effort, Venturini Motorsports (VMS) once again featured the trio of Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota), Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman Tools Toyota) and Natalie Decker (No.25 N29 Capital Partners Toyota).
After starting side-by-side on the third row, VMS teammates Christian Eckes and Chandler Smith would run in the top five before taking over the race near the halfway point as the two previous series winners drove to the front swapping positions for the top spot.
On a restart with 25-laps remaining, Smith and Eckes would occupy the first two spots and seemingly would ride it out and battle for the victory. That was until lap-178, when a hard charging Eckes would dramatically slow after blowing out his left front tire without warning along the backstretch.
Eckes’ misfortunes appeared to be Smith’s gift as the two drivers were clearly the class of the field after the halfway point of the race. The two teenage drivers combined to lead 80 laps on the night.
After a debris caution, Smith would once again take charge on the restart stretching out his lead over Zane Smith to three car lengths with 10-laps remaining. Smith, with eyes on his second career win, would take the white flag. Then on the final turn with the checkered flag waiving Smith was taken out from behind by Joe Graf Jr. who dive-bombed the corner looking to intentionally take out Smith.
Take out Smith he did. The yellow flag quickly came out as Smith would spin to the inside of the track in front of a raucous crowd of onlookers unhappy with the move by Graf. Setting up a second consecutive overtime race, Smith would find his way back in line on the restart and finish the race seventh after a clean green-white-checker finish.
“I have no idea what to say,” said a dejected Smith who led 37-laps on the night and appeared to be in line for his second career victory. “We had the race won tonight until we got absolutely flat out dumped by the 77-car. I understand short track racing – but that guy drove recklessly through everyone like he was playing a video game. Just not the way I would’ve done it. I hate it for my guys. This Craftsman Toyota team did a heck of a job tonight. This is a great Venturini Motorsports team – It’s super aggravating – we should be celebrating. Instead we’re loading up and looking ahead to Indianapolis.”
Eckes, who led 43-laps on the night would finish one lap down after blowing his tire and finish 11th.
“We had a super-fast JBL Camry tonight,” said Eckes. “It’s really unfortunate, I was passing back for the lead when it happened. Not really sure what went down in turns 3 and 4 but it killed our night. Just put it in the back pocket and move on to the next one. Thanks Toyota, JBL, Sirius XM and all my guys that make this 15 as fast as it is.”
Natalie Decker, who started her day running the Trans AM race at Road America prior to flying across Lake Michigan to compete in the ARCA race, finished tenth and was scored as the last car on the lead lap. Berlin marks back-to-back top-10 finishes for the popular rookie. Decker, the only VMS driver competing in the full series schedule, maintains her seventh spot in the driver point standings.
The Series will return to action on Labor Day for the annual General Tire Grabber 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
ABOUT VENTURINI MOTORSPORTS:
Over the last 35-years Venturini Motorsports (VMS) has evolved into one of the most recognizable names in professional motorsports. Known for long-time dominance in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, Venturini Motorsports is held in high regard as one of the premier NASCAR driver development programs in the county. Since 2007, VMS has specialized in the career development of some of today’s top racing talent including current NASCAR “Stars” – Joey Logano, Erik Jones, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Darryl ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Ben Rhoads, Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones, Matt Tifft, Brennan Poole, Dalton Sargeant, Justin Haley and Todd Gilliland. Integrity, dedication and continuous innovation paired with years of on-track success has helped define Venturini Motorsports as one of the longest tenured teams in all of modern day racing. In 2012, the Venturini racing family was recognized for their collective achievements and inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame – now finding themselves enshrined with such sports icons as Joe DiMaggio, Mario Andretti, Chip Ganassi, Andy Granatelli, Vince Lombardi, Tommy Lasorda and Rocky Marciano.